LU biology student tackles Alzheimer's research

Growing up surrounded by the medical field, Beaumont senior biology student Jacob Thompson always felt a natural pull toward science and healthcare.  Jacob Thompson Head Shot

“My mom was a nurse, and my dad was an ER tech, so I've always grown up surrounded by the medical field and the science stuff, and that's always just kind of interested me,” Thompson shared. 

However, it was the personal impact of Alzheimer's disease on his family that ignited a specific interest in neurodegenerative disorders. 

“I've had a lot of family members who had Alzheimer's disease, and personally interacting with them, knowing them, and being with them throughout that whole thing has impacted me in some way,” Thompson said.  

This personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease became the driving force behind Thompson's academic pursuits at Lamar University. 

“When I started here, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do, but I met Dr. Vasefi a few years ago, and she offered to teach me how to research for the first time, and her research is neurobiology, and specifically neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease,” Thompson said. “And so, it immediately stuck out to me because this is a thing I've always been interested in, but never really knew what to do with that interest.”  

After years of conducting research at Lamar, Thompson discovered the David J. Beck Fellowship opportunity which rewards outstanding academic achievement and allows students to further challenge themselves with undergraduate research and creative study.  

Jacob Thompson presents Research “I had been doing research for a few years and to be honest, I had never even heard about that [Beck] fellowship until I had gone to a few research expo events at Lamar,” Thompson said. “I went to the big Lamar research expo just to watch it and look at the research, and they had the two prior Beck Fellows come, and I was amazed because I didn’t even know it was a possibility.”  

Despite initial hesitations about the fellowship, Thompson took a leap of faith and applied for the David J. Beck Fellowship.   

“My first thought was ‘I really wanted to do that’. But I felt like it was probably out of my reach, and I would never get picked anyway. So, at first, I didn't apply,” Thompson said. “But I talked to Dr. Vasefi; we thought about it, and we decided to just try.” 

Aiming high, Jacob reached out to major labs, aligning his interests with cutting-edge Alzheimer's research.  

"I decided if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it big," Thompson said. "And so I just reached out to the biggest labs I possibly can see, you know, looking at the current research on Alzheimer's disease, specifically in the areas that I'm interested in."  

After being selected as a Beck Fellow, Jacob Thompson's summer was split with a month and a half divided between the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University labs where he would research the biological basis of neuronal aging and its connection to Alzheimer's disease.   

“Each of them was so unique, Rochester, Minnesota was weird. The Mayo Clinic was in the middle of these farms, and then Baltimore's the opposite which is like this mega city.” 

Despite their differences, Thompson tackled the learning experience head on and was welcomed alongside some of the leading experts in neuroscience including Dr. Diana Jurk of the Mayo Clinic and Dr. Meaghan Morris at Johns Hopkins.  

“Dr. Jurk's lab at the Mayo Clinic was primarily focused on something called cellular senescence, which is how cells react to harmful situations and change. Then at the Johns Hopkins, it was a lab on Alzheimer's disease, so it was branching backwards into the areas of how it gets there,” Thompson said. “And thankfully, you know, because it's specifically the interest group that I would pick the niche interest of neurodegenerative research that I loved. I had understood most of it, so a lot of the work they were currently doing is kind of like the same thing that we do here [at Lamar] but on a bigger level.” 

Now, as Jacob's time at Lamar University draws to a close, his commitment to his community shines through his aspirations. 

“My greatest goal is to become a neurologist, specifically to study and treat neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease, especially seeing it here in southeast Texas,” he shared. “Neurological disorders are everywhere, but the care isn't everywhere. So, my greatest goal in life is to become a neurologist and treat people going through this type of neurological condition right here in southeast Texas where we need it so badly.”